About 150 people attended a vigil for a Bloomington, Ind., 6-year-old boy who died while in the care of foster guardians used by Child Protective Services.
Many of the dozen people who spoke at the April 16 service expressed outrage that Felix Chen had been removed from his mother’s custody months before his April 1 death.
“Life is too precious to allow petty disputes and bureaucracies to rip a child from his mother’s arms,” said Paul Park, student leader of Indiana University’s Asian American Association Student Group.
The boy’s mother, Lingling Chen, a biology professor at Indiana University, has said she believes Monroe County caseworkers ignored the child’s ongoing medical problems.
She also said caseworkers prohibited her from speaking with her son in Chinese during supervised visits. Chen said her son was most comfortable speaking his native language.
Representatives of the Asian Cultural Center have criticized that policy.
At the vigil, the words “In memory of Felix” were written on cardboard signs in 24 different languages. Photo albums showed Felix opening packages on Christmas morning, riding a tricycle and clutching a fishing pole with both hands while snuggling in his father’s lap. Bunches of six white balloons were tied to the trunks of several trees.
“We shouldn’t be here today; this shouldn’t have happened,” said Scott Kennedy, a professor in Chinese politics at IU. “But we’re serving notice to state and national officials that we need to do a better job of protecting our children.”
Kennedy said a Felix Chen Memorial Fund has been established to help the family with legal and other expenses. The Indiana University Asian Culture Center sponsored the vigil.
Officials removed the boy from Chen’s home in January and placed him in a foster home in Owen County.
Chen has said she lost custody because she sometimes used a cotton bathrobe belt to tie the boy’s hands so he would not hit himself in the head. She said after he was placed in a foster home, his health deteriorated and she sought an emergency injunction to return him to her custody.
Chen said she believed that she would soon get custody of her son again, and had twice-a-week visits with him in foster care.
The boy’s mother said her son had fainted repeatedly during his last visit to her home on the day of his death. She said a Child Protective Services supervisor took the boy out of the house after a few hours. About three hours later, Chen said she got a phone call saying her son fainted again and was in the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Authorities were waiting for the results of an autopsy they hope will shed more light on the boy’s death.